Editorial: In defense of science

Oral arguments began this week on a lawsuit by 11 parents in Dover, Pa., seeking to reverse the local school board’s decision to teach “intelligent design” in the system’s biology classes. The school board argues that its decision is an issue of “academic freedom.”

But the 11 parents reply that the “intelligent design” curriculum is a strategy by the Christian right to repackage “creationism” in order to smuggle it into the public schools in violation of the First Amendment requirement for separation of church and state.

The trial in a Harrisburg, Pa., court is being called “Scopes II,” referring to the famous trial of classroom teacher John Scopes in Dayton, Tenn., in 1925. Scopes had dared to teach his students Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. Scopes’ case was brilliantly argued by civil liberties lawyer Clarence Darrow and the teaching of evolution as the pillar of modern biology was upheld.

Today, the ultra-right has launched a renewed war against science. George W. Bush claims that global warming is “unproven” even as hurricanes like Katrina and Rita are linked to rising temperatures in the Caribbean. He blocks funding of stem cell research, which could lead to cures to Parkinsons and other diseases.

In the nation’s schools, intimidation is so serious that a survey by the National Science Foundation found that a majority of high school biology teachers fear reprisal if they teach evolution.

Meanwhile, proponents of “intelligent design” plead that they simply want their “science” taught on an equal basis. They are lying. If they get their foot in the door, their next step will be to outlaw the teaching of evolution.

Even more is at stake here than science itself. The ultra-right has seized on the teaching of evolution as a wedge issue to advance their overall ideological agenda.

In defending science, these 11 parents in Dover are defending democracy.

They deserve all the solidarity we can give them.